British author and political commentator Douglas Murray stares at me blankly on the computer screen, with what may be exhaustion. He is not particularly alert, nor is he smiling. Whether he’s writing controversial opinion columns, debating with liberal luminaries or sparring with opponents on Twitter (355,000 followers) – one could say that this brilliant intellectual, a prominent neoconservative ideologue, is difficult to challenge. I raise fraught issues, ask him to address the elephants he places in the china shop of liberal-progressive discourse, and he doesn’t flinch. I suggest that he is Islamophobic, and he keeps a straight face. A perfect baby face, by the way. But one thing still makes him lose his temper, at least according to his own standards: Wikipedia. Specifically, the entry written about him.
“Oh, I wouldn’t read my Wikipedia page, it’s filled with horrors and mistakes,” he retorts after I ask him to confirm something written there. “There’s nothing most people can do about Wikipedia once it posts an alternative version of your life, it’s an enormously belligerent platform. I’m just horrified... I don’t obsess about this, but I’ve always been a subject of very negative campaigning by people who wish to pretend that, you know, I’m some kind of...”
Are you referring to the fact that it lists you as a member of the intellectual dark web, alongside American commentator Ben Shapiro and feminist activist and thinker Ayaan Hirsi Ali?
“Intellectual dark web I don’t mind but, I mean, people ignore, for instance, all the nice things that distinguished people have said about you and put only the hostile things that incredibly obscure figures have leveled against you.”
There were plenty of positive things also there.
“Yeah, [but] my experience is that the only people who obsess about contributing to somebody else’s Wikipedia page are your enemies. It’s a problem with that platform, which I think is a terrible product of the misinformation age.”
Following are some basic objective facts about Douglas Murray, with whom Haaretz spoke via video conversation from his London apartment: He is 42, a prolific writer of political theory books and articles, and contributes regularly to The Spectator magazine, where he is a columnist and deputy editor. Throughout his writings he presents a hard-to-digest critique of the basic shibboleths and blind spots of liberal discourse, sharply criticizes European immigration policy of recent years, attacks the “imported” values of immigrants from Islamic countries, and warns against Islamic terrorism. In fact, immigration and its consequences was also the subject of his 2017 book “The Strange Death of Europe,” an acclaimed but also severely criticized best seller.
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We can’t really say, then, that his latest effort came as a surprise. The basic argument behind “The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity” (2019), as it is titled, is that the liberal camp has made identity the standard of morality and is waging a holy war not only against those who disagree with it, but also anyone who seeks to question the tenets of identity theory or simply isn’t familiar with its lexicon. To understand why the book – recently translated into Hebrew and published by Sela Meir – has also become a celebrated but also criticized best seller – one need only look at the table of contents: Chapter 1 – Homosexuals, Chapter 2 – Women, 3 – Race, 4 – Trans.
Murray has yet to write a book about Israel, but his views about its conflicts are hardly surprising. As he made clear more than once, he really, really does not understand the harsh critique leveled against this small country surrounded by enemies. “Why do parts of Britain erupt whenever Israel defends itself?” the headline of his column in The Spectator declared during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip in May, as he lamented the “ignoramuses” who “cry about disproportionate death tolls” already in the first paragraph.
“My own view is that disproportion in conflict is a very strange measure, which only really comes in with great fervor in relation to Israel’s conflicts,” he explains, “but many conflicts have disproportion in death toll quite often, [and] that has to do with the winning side in the conflict suffering fewer proportionate losses than the losers in the conflict. I don’t see why this has become a measure. If the suggestion is that Israel has hit the wrong targets in Gaza, that would be a different claim. If it is that Israel is not precise enough, and I think that it wouldn’t be a wise claim to make, but if the claim was that Israel wasn’t precise enough in its precision bombing, then that’s another claim, but this obsession with proportionality – it’s just very curious and we don’t hear it in other conflicts. American forces in Afghanistan were not constantly berated over the fact that there weren’t enough death tolls on the American side compared to among Afghan militias. I think it’s something that’s come up since the second intifada, [when] very prominent statesmen and women in Europe and elsewhere have made that claim. And I think they’ve popularized it. It’s just one of those idiot ideas that catches on when enough people use it.”
This approach has indeed earned Murray many critics and enemies. They see him as a demagogue and populist (“right-wing provocateur, blind to oppression,” he was called in The Guardian), and are outraged as he repeatedly warns of millions of migrants crossing continents and seas to reach Europe, and rails against liberal tyranny. But Murray wasn’t exaggerating when he protested Wikipedia’s editors’ omission of the praise he has garnered. “Whether you agree with him or not, Murray is one of the most important intellectuals of our time,” said French philosopher-intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, also a controversial figure. Moreover, renowned British biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins (who this year, 25 years after earning it, was divested of his honorary title of “Humanist of the Year” by the American Humanist Association) wrote in The Spectator: “I’ve had mixed feelings about Murray since he traduced me as a cowardly Islamophile (I’m accustomed to the opposite, equally unjust accusation). But his latest book is beyond brilliant and should be read, must be read, by everyone.”
Douglas Kear Murray was actually raised in an apolitical household. He was born in Hammersmith, west London, the son of a Gaelic-speaking Scottish father and an English-born mother, a teacher, who encouraged him and his older brother – as he told the Scottish Herald in an interview about two years ago – to have lively discussions around the dinner table. Today, his parents “have no responsibility for the thoughts of their son,” according to the same article. But about what happened between the childhood table conversations and today’s fiery speeches and writings Murray refrained from addressing almost completely, both in that article and others: “I never talk about my private life. My late friend [British-American intellectual] Christopher Hitchens used to say: You have the copyright over your own life, but not the lives of those around you,” he also warns at the beginning of our conversation, quashing my hopes that he may break protocol.
I am disappointed, of course, but understand the situation. In practice Murray isn’t only defending “copyright.” His views, especially on the issue of immigration and Islam, have already made him many enemies; indeed, he regularly receives death threats, and mentions of his partners or relatives by name in the media can expose them to danger. In fact, during one of the amusing moments of our conversation he recounts that the day he addressed the Danish Parliament about the “cartoon crisis,” as he defined it, surrounding France’s Charlie Hebdo magazine, the Islamic State threatened to blow up the building and Britain issued a travel warning to Denmark.
Do you still receive death threats regularly?
“Yes, that’s been the case for a long time, sadly, but I got used to that quite frankly, a long time ago, and it doesn’t affect my mind on any negative level anymore. I also don’t like moaning and I think that, you know, frankly, if you write about controversial issues, then you attract nutters. There’s not much you can do about that. It has occasionally affected my life. It did for a period when I couldn’t speak in public in the U.K., at the advice of the British police, and I was sorry for that because I love communicating with live audiences.”
I certainly believe that something is rotten in the Kingdom of Islam. And where I come from, it’s still a pretty controversial statement, but that doesn’t make it untrue.Murray
Thankfully, the things Murray omits verbally are written in his book: In the first chapter, “Homosexuals,” he identifies as gay. “That’s fine,” he says after I point out the uncharacteristic self-exposure, “because I’m always happy to defend my ideas.”
“I sort of put it [his sexual orientation] to the front to say to people: Look, there’s nothing I’m not willing to explore about this one thing that happens to be the one thing I’m writing about. Quite often, there’s a suspicion in the mind of a reader that you might be doing this to groups that aren’t you and I wanted to show that I’m a friend. But I think that in these times, it is important to separate the public and the private. I look with horror, for instance, at friends and contemporaries and others, you know, some of whom are in the public eye, some of whom wish to be posting endless photos of ... I just don’t think it’s wise. And it always gets back at you somehow.”
So, what else do we know about Murray? He devoted his first book to the subject of British poet and writer Lord Alfred Douglas, notoriously known as Oscar Wilde’s lover. This book was published to rave reviews in 2000, when Murray was still an English student at Oxford’s prestigious Magdalen College, just like his protagonist a little over a century earlier. The Sunday Times praised it as “one of the most impressive biographical debuts of recent times,” The Sunday Telegraph proclaimed that “Murray is an extraordinary young writer” and so on. “Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas” became a best seller, and won the 2001 Lambda LGBTQ Biography Award.
His second book, published in 2005, already framed Murray as an emerging political persona. It is titled “Neoconservatism: Why We Need It,” and in a speech the following year, he described the circumstances that led him to write it as “growing frustration… from the fact that the term ‘neocon’ became one to label a person as a warmonger or at least as belonging to the far right of the Republican Party.” In his next book, in 2011, he returned to the past: “Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and The Saville Inquiry” was devoted to the events of “Bloody Sunday” – January 30, 1972 – when British paratroopers shot and killed 14 unarmed Catholic men and boys in a poor area of Derry in Northern Ireland.
But even when stuck in the past, Murray is always looking ahead: Between the publication of his second and third books, in 2007, he founded the Centre for Social Cohesion, which sought to develop new approaches to bringing religious and ethnic communities closer in the U.K. The center researched a number of those groups and published its findings and analyses from time to time. One such report, based on a survey in 2008, claimed that 32 percent of Muslim students in the U.K. believe that murder can be justified in the name of religion (compared to only 2 percent of non-Muslims), and 40 percent of them support Sharia law. Instead of community “cohesion,” there were angry reactions.
The center was later absorbed by the Henry Jackson Society, a U.K.-based think tank, and Murray retired shortly thereafter, but the road to his next book, the one that placed him at the forefront of neoconservative thinkers internationally, was paved. “The Strange Death of Europe” was a best seller at home and was translated into dozens of languages: Critics praised him, senior politicians from all parts of the spectrum – “all three recent Australian prime ministers read the book and communicated about it, and the former Slovakian prime minister, who is left-wing,” Murray tells me – read it, and the young author became a sought-after speaker. Indeed, on his global book tour, a personal encounter with a local political leader usually awaited him. Yes, also in Israel, where he gave several lectures in 2019 (he met with Benjamin Netanyahu, but refuses to talk about it or specify when it happened).
When asked about his connection with leaders, he is actually quite modest: “Whenever I travel, I always try to see the political leaders in the country I’m in mainly out of interest and, as a journalist and as a writer and just as somebody interested in things,” he explains. “My explanation for it [the reception of ‘The Strange Death of Europe’] is that migration is one of the big issues of the 21st century, and there has been a great cordon sanitaire around it because it is also one of the ugliest subjects,” he claims, adding, “I think that anyone who’s willing to try to understand it is going to get a readership because we tell ourselves lots of lies about the subject and all the people in power in every country know that there is a lie about migration.”
What is that lie?
“Well, the lie is... and this is slightly different, interestingly, than the Israeli context of course – that you have to pretend that you’re open to the world, but you can’t be. In order to be a decent person, you have to pretend that you would like the world to come. But the reality is you can’t, the world cannot come. The world cannot come to Europe. The world can’t come to America or come to Israel. And even if it was in our gift [i.e., within our right] – to do so would destroy... I mean, you either have open borders or a welfare state, but you’ve got to choose between them.”
In “The Madness of Crowds,” Murray’s analysis extends far beyond the idea of the weakening of the welfare state. He describes in detail how immigration to Europe intensified from the end of World War II onward due to a series of failures, to the point of fundamentally changing the continent and even undermining its contemporary values.
Then, in 2015, the great immigration crisis happened, and yet Angela Merkel’s Germany, the leading country in the EU, adopted an open border policy toward immigrants.
“Europe got found out in 2015, in that Merkel and others said, let them in. But my observation in politics, by the way, is that nobody ever says, really, we got that wrong and shouldn’t have done it. [German politicians indeed admitted publicly that they were wrong – eds.] Where you can tell they think they got it wrong and shouldn’t have done it is when it’s clear they wouldn’t do it again. And no one in Germany now says 2015 was such a success, we should do another one. And, and that’s why so many politicians and others reacted well to ‘The Strange Death of Europe.’ Look, I visited all the countries of the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and most of the countries that people fled from, and I also traveled all over Southern Europe and the migrant camps at the height of the crisis, I saw the boats coming and talked to countless immigrants. So I knew I pointed to a problem that no one was talking about, or that everyone was only talking about in secret.”
The question is how do we try to level it out so that nobody who’s Black in America is held back simply because they’re Black. The really negative version of how to do that is ‘we’ll stick it to the whites for a bit.’Murray
The title “The Strange Death of Europe” clearly highlights the consequences of the problem of immigration, according to Murray. But he is also talking about actual deaths – the ones caused by terrorism: “Everyone knows it’s a problem, but the political echelon just prefers to ignore it and talk about online radicalization and censorship on Facebook because it’s easier. Our politicians do not trust the public to deal with this discourse and try to silence it. I have said this every time there has been a terrorist attack in recent years. I said this quite a bit during the David Cameron years. He used to say that Islam is a religion of peace – in the years when ISIS made a name for itself in Syria. He even said it when a British citizen joined ISIS and decapitated British hostages in Syria. I told him that once someone blows themselves up in the middle of a live show in the name of Allah, he won’t be able to say it anymore, because the British public simply will not believe him. And then it did happen, at Manchester Arena in May 2017, when 22 people were killed by a suicide bomber.”
What would you say to someone who calls you an Islamophobe?
Murray laughs. “I do not identify myself with that term. I also do not like it, I fought to stop its spread and lost. In any case, I am not ‘phobic,’ first and foremost in the technical sense, because a phobia is an irrational fear, and it is completely rational to fear certain significant elements of Islam, even if not all of it. I can’t be any clearer: I certainly believe that something is rotten in the Kingdom of Islam. And where I come from, it’s still a pretty controversial statement, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The only ones who think Islam is totally fine are those who don’t have enough Muslim friends because anyone who does knows that this discussion also takes place around their dining tables: how to deal with extremists, where they are, what do you know about them. Muslim communities, in the U.K. like anywhere else, acknowledge the problem but don’t want to do their dirty laundry in public, which is a problem in itself. Jewish, Christian and LGBTQ communities don’t mind doing this, but Muslim communities in the West have a unique problem because they try to conceal what everyone else can see.”
Emphasizing this issue obscures the fact that most immigrants and refugees are fleeing hunger and poverty. How do they factor here?
“The figures show that most of the people who come are seeking relief from economic deprivation. Economic deprivation is terrible, but it cannot be a reason to be able to come into Europe. Gallup polls have shown that in sub-Saharan Africa alone there are hundreds of millions of people who wish to move. Europe has consistently underestimated the number of people who want to come in and massively overestimated its ability to absorb these people. But our politicians pretend that we can, which gets in the way of an honest discussion.”
The new quasi-religion
If you thought that Murray, an atheist, targets only Islam and its believers who immigrated to the Old World, you are wrong. His latest book “The Madness of Crowds” challenges all the shibboleths of liberal-progressive discourse. A master of using historical references and cultural contexts, he targets with marksman-like precision each and every soft spot of progressive discourse and shatters it. That is his main strength. He exposes weaknesses and lack of authenticity in all the cardinal issues of that discourse – homosexuality, women, race and transgender people – and at times his rhetorical prowess may prove a challenge even to a reader from the opposing side. Fortunately, his book lacks the only element that would have made it genuinely challenging: compassion.
“In recent years, I have become interested in the emergence of a new quasi-religious force basically in the Western democracies, mainly in English-speaking countries. It’s a metaphysical shift in the underlying values of a society. And, I stress, this obviously differs between countries. Israel obviously has a very strong religious element, but in Western democracies religion has certainly retreated for the last few decades. Nothing ever exists in a vacuum, something will always try to fill this space so that people would be able to demonstrate virtue among their peers, and how will you do that in a system where religion is in decline?”
And that’s what you’re trying to show in “The Madness of Crowds “? This is where being “woke” comes from?
“I think that there is a new system that is in its relatively early stages. It relies on – to take it at its most positive, you could say, the aspiration – and I actually share this aspiration – that nobody should ever be held back from performing a task that they’re competent to perform simply because of characteristics over which they have no say. And I think that’s a laudable goal. Actually, if you want to sort of free up your society to be as efficient, effective, and creative as possible, it’s a good-ish place to start. But that’s sort of the most positive interpretation of what’s going on. A negative one is that we’re in some kind of period of historic revenge and a new metaphysical system is quite useful for performing that form of revenge.”
We will come back to revenge, but before that a historical point needs to be made: Loss of religious faith is the cause of current tectonic sociocultural processes, according to Murray, but what allowed these themes to emerge from the dormant fringes of academia, where they rested for years, into the mainstream, is the 2008 economic crisis. After all, he writes, “It is not difficult to understand why a generation that believes they will never be able to afford to own their own home will be drawn to an ideological worldview that promises to address every injustice, not only in their own lives but every injustice on earth ...”
“Social justice,” Murray goes on in his book, weaving his theory, “uses identity politics to mobilize its adherents. This fragments society into interest groups according to sex (or gender), race, sexual preference etc. The assumption is that these attributes essentially define people, and also offer added value. For example... the assumption that a woman, Black person or a homosexual have privileged access to morality as a result of their identity.”
You mention justice and vengeance as two sides of the same coin. What do you mean?
“Obviously in some ways the most dangerous, certainly in the American context, is the racial attempt to do this. Nobody’s going to deny or could deny that historically America, most obviously the situation for American Blacks, is terrible. Many, many millions of people were brought across the Atlantic on slave ships. And this history is very well rehearsed now, it’s taught in all American schools. This had effects for a long time afterward, and the question then is how do we try to level it [i.e., history] out so that, again, nobody who’s Black in America is held back from whatever they can achieve simply because they’re Black. The really negative version of how to do that is ‘we’ll stick it to the whites for a bit.’ One of the purposes of the book is to warn not to do this.”
In his book, Murray illustrates the “stick it to the whites” approach through a series of violent incidents from the last decade. For example, the Evergreen College scandal in Washington state where popular lecturer Bret Weinstein was fired because he expressed opposition to the white “Day of Absence,” or the Yale University Halloween scandal, in which Prof. Nicholas Christakis was attacked by Black students on campus after being quoted in an email that his wife, lecturer Erika Christakis, had written criticizing the university’s identity policies.
These incidents, Murray claims, did not occur in a vacuum. They are directly related to the new field of research called “critical whiteness studies,” the purpose of which, according to Oxford University, is to “expose the invisible structures that produce and reproduce white supremacy and white privileges and presupposes a certain conception of racism connected to white supremacy.”
In other words, precisely when it may seem that the situation of Blacks has never been better, social science departments have chosen to shift gears in the fight to eradicate racism, and to pave the way for (reverse) racism as a form of affirmative action. When such racism is directed at whites, it is applauded, Murray writes, citing the story of American journalist and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose first book, “The Beautiful Struggle,” deals with his childhood alongside whites in Baltimore. “I thought they looked dirty, and that made me racist and proud,” Murray quotes Coates, writing that not only was Coates not held accountable for such sentiments, but on the contrary: He was hailed as the new James Baldwin.
All this, Murray concludes, is a sin against the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., who dreamed that his children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by their personality. Still, one cannot help but wonder: Was George Floyd judged by his personality when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, suffocating him to death in Minneapolis? Were the players of the English national soccer team judged according to their personalities when, following the recent loss to Italy in the Euro final, they were victims of violent racist abuse from many media outlets?
He advocates for an esoteric type of conversion therapy, which he calls “spiritual counselling.” One that is given with consent to adults seeking to change their sexual orientation from gay to straight.
Reward and punishment
But let’s start at the beginning. In the first chapter, “The Madness of Crowds,” on homosexuality – the weakest of the four chapters, perhaps precisely because of the author’s own declared sexual identity – Murray repeats the same basic arguments. Among other things, he advocates for an esoteric type of conversion therapy, which he calls “spiritual counselling.” One that is given with consent to adults seeking to change their sexual orientation from gay to heterosexual. The discourse of our time, he writes, encourages “coming out of the closet,” but when it comes to moving in the other direction, it suddenly ceases to be enlightened.
Wouldn’t you agree that typically conversion therapy is not consensual?
“Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. Of course, I am against non-consensual ‘therapy’ for people of any age. What I think is that it’s very important to leave a window open to the possibility [sighs] ... When we think about conversion therapy generally, what we think of are people like Edmund White and others in the 1950s and early generation of gay men who objected to, among other things, electric conversion shock therapy that is very, very damaging – and of course doesn’t work and much more, and certainly hasn’t been practiced with any legality for a very, very long time. What I mentioned is a challenge to liberalism actually, which is: Ought an adult voluntarily be able to seek spiritual counter-counseling? And I think the answer to that has to be yes, we should leave the window open for that, because I think there is an issue of religious liberty and an issue of personal freedom. We do have the issue that the gay rights campaign has used in the past, which is consenting adults should do what they want in private. And I think, you know, as we say, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It is an example of not doing in victory what you argued for when you were the underdog.”
You talk about superiority, and in your book there is no recognition of the long years in which the LGBTQ struggle did not bear fruit. A struggle that is not actually over.
“That’s so well known. I mean, everybody has written about it. It’s so well-rehearsed. Everybody knows the history, or ought to know this, if anyone doesn’t, they can go and read it, but it’s not my job to rehearse that again. And I think we were all bored with it. What I think is more interesting and has been very little written about, is the extent to which some people and not everyone, but some people say, well, because of that, you know, we’ll kind of overdo the gay rights, we’ll overdo the status of gays and we will sock it to the straights for a bit.”
We learned about “overdoing rights” in mid-June, when Hungary’s ruling party passed a new law banning the existence of “content that promotes or presents gender change and homosexuality.” Murray, whose book on immigration Prime Minister Victor Orbán complimented, says in answer to a query about that, “I confess I haven’t been able to get up to speed with what is happening with the Hungarian laws. I hope to do so soon.”
In any case, the basic idea that discriminated groups are in better shape than ever and “avenging historical injustice” is repeated in other chapters of Murray’s latest work. For example, in Chapter 2, where he wonders why now, when women are breaking glass ceilings more than ever, the discourse on “patriarchy” and “mansplaining” has moved from the feminist fringes to the mainstream. In an effort to avoid being misunderstood, he emphasizes that “of all the foundations on which a diverse and cultured society can be based, equality between human beings is necessarily the most important of all” – and that he is only trying to point out some of the contradictory conventions we have become accustomed to following. For example: The fact that a woman may be sexy and also crush the man who dares to be tempted and to touch her without her consent (why do they even put on makeup and wear high heels to work if not to seduce men?). Or that women are identical to men in every important aspect and can compete with them on every court, but at the same time, are superior to them (in 2008, immediately after the global economic crisis, he cites as an example, the theory arose that the world would be better if more women ran financial institutions). All these beliefs and more exist, he says, while people completely ignore the differences in the biological “hardware” – chromosomes – that until only a decade ago were considered fixed variables.
You point out these contradictions, but women still earn less, for instance. It’s all a consequence of one’s upbringing.
“The issue of pay differentials is a tricky one for lots of reasons, both across the sexes and across racial boundaries and much more. And it’s tricky among other things because it’s illegal, has been since the 1960s, to pay people differently because of a characteristic. So there’s not much more you can do than making something illegal, but what could be an explanation for where that does still happen? There are these things that by themselves are very interesting to look at, but do not necessarily denote, for instance, that the employer is either racist or sexist or that the system is sexist or that the system is racist. It is a multidimensional problem. My point is that pointing to innate or institutional sexism as the explanation would at best only deal with one possible explanation. And I think that we should be open to the whole range of possible explanations. Some will be cultural, some the result of biology and life choices. And so on. But our age has found it easiest to use things like ‘sexism’ – as with racism – as the sole explanatory tool for challenges that are far more complex than that.”
Along the same lines, we now move straight to Chapter 3, which deals with race – and points, among other things, to a trend of hastily awarded salary hikes, typically at the end of the year, so that a company’s board can be shown colorful graphs that reflect cultural diversity and equal opportunity. In one word: righteousness.
You claim that race is “America’s ethical nightmare.” What do you mean?
He is only trying to point out some of the contradictory conventions we have become accustomed to following. For example: The fact that a woman may be sexy and also crush the man who dares to be tempted and to touch her without her consent.
“For instance, you look at things like the Harvard admissions scandal that blew up the other year. In the name of affirmative action, Harvard quite understandably wants to increase its representation among students and faculty of the Black minority and other minorities. Right. But what happened in the Harvard admissions scandal was the realization that in order to do this, they had to mark down other groups. Because there are two groups that are overrepresented, as I understand it: One is Asian Americans and the other is Jews. And so if you do decide to prioritize access to one racial group based on racial characteristics, it obviously means you are going to have to diminish the chances of attendance at Harvard among one of the overrepresented groups. And this group of Asian students sued Harvard and discovered this was exactly what Harvard was doing: that they were marking down Asian applicants before even interviewing them, on character traits. This discussion worries me enormously. It’s very hard to see how they can get out [of this ethical nightmare] other than thinking much, much more carefully about what they’re trying to do, because my suspicion is that by doing this so ineptly, they are going to massively exaggerate racial difference and create unpleasantness and bigotry – in an effort to erase unpleasantness and bigotry.”
In the book, you gave an example of an acquaintance who was offered a salary increase at the end of the year, regardless of his performance, in order to present to the board of his company a semblance of diversity and equality. You point out that he really did not need a raise, while someone else in the company might. Isn’t it a bit tricky to give an example that may not be representative?
“I’ve spent quite a lot of time in America. I was there for the latter part of last year. And I don’t think, you can meet an American in the workplace now who doesn’t know that the mine fields I’m tripping across are ones that they’re living through every day. And this is one of the things I tried to hint at in that story: that you do get into this problem of people being suspicious of people who have been promoted because they have a competency, if they’re from one of these characteristics – race, gender, sex.”
But more than race, more than women or LGBTQ, the chapter “Trans” reveals Murray’s venom. Why? Because, he writes, “even though recent questions of identity pertain to fewer people than any other issue, the struggle is waged with incredible ferocity and passion.” His main contention is that vexing questions about sex reassignment in children are silenced through intimidation: Parents are told that if their kids are not permitted to take hormones and ultimately undergo irreversible surgery, they will commit suicide.
“I don’t have any problem with adults doing what they want,” he says. “In fact I am very in favor of adults doing what they want. What I mind is the lie that a man can become a woman or a woman become a man. You can have surgery to alter your appearance. You can even have surgery to alter the appearance of your sex organs, but you cannot change your chromosomes. Gametes are real. And while as a courtesy obviously I refer to trans people by the sex they identify as, I can’t pretend that our species is hermaphroditic. Because it isn’t. Claiming that it is confuses an awful lot of things, including children.”
Refutation vs. contradiction
What makes Murray so influential? Scholar Tomer Persico, a research fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute, suggests that it is a combination of Murray’s rhetorical ability and audience demand. “Murray takes the position that’s popular today on the conservative right, which involves ridicule and an attempt to find absurdities and contradictions in contemporary progressive discourse – and to be honest, it’s not that hard to find them – and generates cultural capital from it. He is a talented writer, he has some good points. I think he is at his best when he calls out the weaknesses of progressive discourse and at his worst when he tries, for example, to intimidate Western culture by citing the Islamic threat.
“The reason he is influential is the same reason that both Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro and all sorts of untalented people are influential. Progressive discourse is popular today, so anyone who dares to oppose it and has the economic and social capital to do so without being crushed, immediately turns into an anchor for all kinds of people who feel frustrated in face of it – conservatives, religious believers, and also people who are not like that but have a problem with a framework in which they find completely irrational things.”
These days Murray is working on a new book, due out next year, but refuses to divulge its content: “My late friend [writer and singer] Shusha Guppy always used to say to me: ‘Never talk about a book you’re writing. Paris cafes in the ‘60s were full of people who talked out their books’. And it’s completely true. If you talk about the book you’re writing, you don’t write it. You sort of feel like you’ve done it, weirdly enough, in your head, rehearsed that argument.”
You write a lot. It takes me two weeks to write an article, but you publish one every day.
“I love it. And I do know writers, like, I’m sure you do, who say they don’t like writing. And I always think, well, why don’t you do something else? My experience is that writing is the best way to clarify your thoughts. And when you’re in the middle of it, it’s genuinely exciting because if it’s working, there’s nothing like it, it’s like flying.”